58 posts tagged “interview”

“I think there needs to be a national-level dialogue about it”: Eleni Pinnow on depression, suicide and her sister’s story

Posted February 24th, 2017 by

“Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31 … died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.” So begins the obituary that Eleni Pinnow penned about her sister for the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

The candid obit went viral and struck a chord with countless readers – in the mental health community and beyond – so Eleni followed up with a piece in The Washington Post called “I told the truth about my sister’s obituary, so that others might choose to live.”

We recently talked with Eleni, who is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She shared more about her sister’s life and struggles, the stigma surrounding mental illness and her own experience with managing depression.

You and your sister were really close. Do you have a favorite memory about her that you can share with us?

One of the things that somebody said to me at my sister’s memorial was that when you were with Aletha, it was totally okay to just really be who you were and let your freak flag fly. I think that was really true; Aletha took people as they were.

One of my favorite memories of her was when were adults and we went on a vacation to Harry Potter World and we were at Universal Studios. And at Universal they have the Jurassic Park theme ride. We were there in January, and the Jurassic Park ride was a water ride. So it was relatively chilly and we just rode it over and over. We stayed at a park hotel so we were allowed to skip to the front of the line. We were soaking, it was absolutely freezing and we were sitting in the ride being like, “Oh this is so lovely” – just being really silly. It was a really fun experience and it just felt nice to be with my sister in that way.

When you started “telling the truth” about how Aletha died to family and friends, how did people respond?

My family is relatively small — my parents and I, and then we have some cousins, some aunts and uncles. But we aren’t a terribly a close, close family. My parents were on board right away…it wasn’t something that was surprising to them. And for me, personally, I was in a lot of shock, so it seemed like the natural right thing to do. A lot of people were really, really surprised. When I told one of my friends, she at first didn’t believe me.

So a lot of times I think people were just in disbelief, but that might also have happened if Aletha had died in a car crash or something. In general, I think from my friends and her friends and our family, there’s just an outpouring of love for Aletha and my nuclear family. My coworkers were just incredibly supportive. And then I started hearing from people who’d read the obituary, and they were all just wanting to be heard. I think people don’t often listen to people who have depression or are suicidal or have survived suicide attempts.

And how about when your essay was published, what kind of feedback did you get?

Being a public employee, it was very easy to find my email address, so I got between 400 to 500 emails from people I didn’t know and probably about that many Facebook messages from people I didn’t know. It really hit something. There was something there that people really wanted to talk about – suicide and depression – and I think this gave them an avenue to either start the conversation with a stranger or hopefully to talk about it in their own lives.

What do you think needs to happen so that people can have open, productive conversations about suicide and depression? What’s standing in the way?

I think a lot of it is: people don’t really feel safe bringing it up because they think that there is going to be some judgment, and in some non-guarded moments, I have heard of some judgments.

My friend is an English teacher, and once a week they’ll read articles from the news and the students will write reflections on it. And so she did that with some of the coverage about my sister’s death. And it was really interesting because the students didn’t ever think I was going to read it. And some of them were really beautiful about the need to reach out and how they really want to support people, but then there were some that were like, “Well, her family must have known something.” Or, “I find it hard to believe that if they really cared about her they wouldn’t have seen this,” or “There must have been something else going on. It couldn’t have just been depression – depressed people don’t kill themselves.”

And so I think people hear that, either casually from friends and family or something else, or they hear the message that suicide is selfish or depressed people just need to “snap out of it.” I think that people are aware that there is a lack of compassion and lack of understanding and empathy for people that deal with those issues, and so there isn’t a safe place. Because if you’re already suffering and already struggling, and you know that acknowledging that is just going to increase your suffering, you’d be crazy to ask for help.

What other kinds of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding depression and mental health do you think needs to be addressed?

I think it’s just something we have to get more practice talking about because if you think about the sheer number of people who have lived with mental illness in this country it’s really staggering…that in any given year one out of five people experience mental illness. Who that one is out of five, is probably going to rotate. There are people that are going to live with it their whole lives but then there are people that might experience depression and anxiety for a year, and then go into remission.

And I think it’s just a real fear and real sense of isolation. The mental illness plays into that as well. Part of what feeds mental illness is this desire to keep it secret because you don’t want other people to find out, and that kind of stuff. So it’s really just a perfect storm of disordered thinking and the stigma together that just makes it really difficult for people to come out. So I think there needs to be a national-level dialogue about it.

And that was one of the reasons why I just absolutely loved Carrie Fisher. She was bipolar and she didn’t really care who knew it, and she saw it as a part of her and not something she should be ashamed of, not something terrible. I really admired her, and even though I didn’t know her, that loss hit me. Because here you had someone who was smart and funny and engaging and open about it. I think we just need to have more people say, “This is my experience with mental illness. I’m not crazy, I’m not bad, I’m not going to do anything horrible, I’m just really suffering.” Hopefully other high-profile people will step up and say, “This is something I struggle with as well.”

And that’s one of the reasons why I try to advocate for person-first language: you’re not a “depressed person,” you’re a “person with depression.” Embracing person-first language is really critical to helping people see you’re not just bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, or depression, or OCD —  you’re a whole person, and this is one part of who you are but there is so much more to you that that. I think that’s where suicide works its way in. The depression or mental illness takes over to point where the person loses their sense of personhood and overwhelmingly identifies with the disorder instead of their shared humanity.

You’re also living with depression — how do you cope with depression’s “lies” in your own life?

For me, a lot of it is managing through routine. The way that my distorted thinking happens is, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you don’t exercise today. It doesn’t matter if you don’t shower today. Everybody deserves a break. You can just take this one day off.” And the problem is once that happens, inertia sets in, and I’m less likely to do it the next day and the next day.

So it’s really critical for me to say that every single thing I do in my life, especially when I’m struggling, matters. It matters that I decide to get up and eat breakfast. It matters that I decide to eat a healthy lunch, that I eat dinner. It matters that I walk the dog. It matters that I do something other than just sit around and watch Netflix.  I think that’s the lie: “You deserve a break, you deserve to not have to worry about anything.” That just makes it so much worse. For me the lie is just: let the depression win for a day. And then tomorrow you can get back to being good…it just keeps getting pushed further down the line, so I’m not engaging in my self care, I’m not doing anything to show myself that I matter or anything. So that’s where it can really spiral in a bad way, if I’m not doing anything, if I’m isolating myself from my friends and not seeing anyone as much, not talking to people. And it just takes me to a really not great place.

What kind of advice do you have for people living with depression who use online communities like PatientsLikeMe?

I think the best thing that people can do is to figure out what makes them feel a little better. And commit to doing that for themselves. When I think about my sister and when I think about myself, I’m always willing to do something nice for my husband or my parents or my students, always willing to try and help them, but I’m not always willing to do that for myself. So I know that nothing will make me feel better for several hours than going and getting my heart rate up for a half hour, 45 minutes, an hour. I know that nothing in the world will be better. But then I’m like, “Oh, well this student really needs the support,” or something else, so I neglect that. I think sometimes it’s okay to say, “I really have to do this for myself, because otherwise I’m going to go to a not great place.”

Everyone is really good at advocating for the needs of others, but identifying your own needs and speaking up for them is probably the most important gift you can give yourself, because then you can start to counter this idea that all you are is your mental illness. You’re starting to do something for yourself, you’re starting to prioritize yourself and prove to yourself that you really matter, and I think that’s really critical.

After my sister passed away, one of her friends said that he felt that Aletha was like a watering can. She was always watering her other friends and nourishing them and helping them grow, but all of that was depleting her and taking away some of her resources. So once her water ran out, she didn’t know what to do next. She didn’t have a way to deal with that and cope with that. You have to prioritize yourself.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Dr. Steve Feldman speaks about psoriasis and medication adherence

Posted August 6th, 2015 by

In honor of Psoriasis Awareness Month, we’re throwing it back to January 2013, when we sat down with Steve Feldman, MD, PhD, and Professor of Dermatology, Pathology & Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In his interview, he spoke about the challenges for psoriasis patients, as well as the treatment advances that may be ahead. We’ve reposted his entire interview below so you can learn about his research studies on patients’ adherence to topical treatments.

As the founder of DrScore.com, tell us how rating doctors online can improve medical care.

Doctors want to give their patients great medical care. Online ratings can help by giving doctors the feedback they need to know—from patients’ perspectives—such as what the doctor is doing well and what the doctor can do to enhance the quality of care in their practice. www.DrScore.com was designed to help facilitate that feedback while also giving patients a better picture—more transparency—of the quality of care physicians provide, something that wasn’t nearly so easy to do in the pre-Internet era.

What do you think about PatientsLikeMe’s data-sharing platform and openness philosophy?

PatientsLikeMe does a truly wonderful job taking advantage of the capabilities of the Internet to permit data sharing among patients so they can learn from one another. Another extraordinary accomplishment has been to develop ways to combine that data in order to better understand diseases and the benefits and risks of the treatments for those diseases. Openness is a terrific attribute in this Internet age. I am very optimistic about medicine and health care providers and think there’s nothing to hide (and if there were something to hide, it ought to be exposed)!

You’ve done extensive research around treatment adherence. What are the considerations for patients?

Well, as the former Surgeon General put it, medicines don’t work if patients don’t take them. Taking medicine isn’t easy, unless it is a habit. And when a patient starts to use a new medicine, taking it isn’t a habit. Patients forget their medicine, they may be fearful of their medicine, there are just all sorts of reasons why patients don’t always take their medications. I think coming up with a plan, a system, for remembering is helpful. (I keep my own pills in a seven-day dispenser on the dinner table, which works great for me except when my family goes out to eat).

If patients are fearful, they should have an honest discussion with the doctor about it. One thing is certain: patients should be honest with their doctors about how they use their medicines. It does neither the patient nor the doctor any good for the patient to tell the doctor one thing but do something else. If a doctor does prescribe a medicine that the patient thinks is too costly or too risky, the patient should let their doctor know. The doctor wants to know and may be able to change things.

We have a growing psoriasis community. What challenges do psoriasis patients face?

Psoriasis has a huge impact on patients’ lives. It affects how patients perceive themselves, how other people perceive the person who has psoriasis, and, in many cases, how someone with psoriasis thinks they are perceived by others. The lesions aren’t just unsightly; they can be itchy and painful. The condition is caused by an overactive immune system, which can also result in arthritis and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. There are good treatments, but the treatments have their downsides: they may be costly, inconvenient, messy, and risky. One of the biggest challenges is getting educated about all the potential options. It isn’t easy.

In our forum, patients have been discussing whether diet can affect psoriasis. What’s your take?

Well, I don’t know of any particular dietary issues that have been definitively shown to affect psoriasis one way or the other (except perhaps that starvation temporarily improves the disease, probably by inhibiting the immune system). But if a particular patient finds some particular dietary issue that makes their psoriasis worse (or better), they should eat accordingly. Some patients tell me beer and/or wine makes their disease worse or that avoiding gluten has helped. The PatientsLikeMe platform may be helpful in compiling the experiences of many people to see if these are issues for individuals or could truly help patients in general.

Any thoughts on what’s ahead in terms of psoriasis management and treatment advances?

As our understanding of the immune system improves, scientists at drug companies will be developing newer and perhaps better ways of controlling immune diseases, including psoriasis. As our health care system changes to become more cost conscious, there may be greater reliance on low cost treatments, like generic creams and ointments for people with mild disease and more use of phototherapy for people with more severe involvement. And with better data collection—like with PatientsLikeMe—we may develop a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t work, and what risks and benefits our treatments have.

If you’re living with psoriasis, don’t forget to connect with the more than 5,000 members of the psoriasis community at PatientsLikeMe.

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When children are the caregivers

Posted July 13th, 2015 by

In 1998, the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY) was founded to help support a silent, vulnerable and hidden population in the United States – the thousands of children who provide care for family members, but are unable to manage their own lives independently. And to show these strong children that they are not alone, the AACY created the Caregiving Youth Project (CYP) that integrates healthcare, education and a community of support.

PatientsLikeMe is partnering with these two organizations to help shine a light on the lives of these caregiving youths. But who are some of these hidden heroes? Meet Katrina. She’s the oldest of three siblings, and growing up, she cared for her bedridden uncle, her sister (living with down syndrome and heart problems) and her brother (living with apraxia). But as she says, “this situation is a privilege because it is a challenge.” Read about her experiences in her own words below:

Katrina’s story
“Not many children grow up having a completely bed-ridden uncle living with them. Or a little sister with Down syndrome and severe heart complications. Or a little brother who could hardly hear as a young boy and who has Apraxia; but, those who do have a unique privilege. Why, you might ask, do I use the word privilege? Doesn’t the word “problem” or “difficulty” or “burden” describe the situation better? No. This situation is a privilege because it is a challenge. And it is in and through challenges that one may grow. Because my family has had these challenges, we have increased in love for one another and have been unified into a solid family. My parents have made enormous self-denying concessions to do what is best for their extended and immediate family in caring for those with physical and mental needs. 

As a child, my parents encouraged me and my siblings to help our uncle with simple needs, and we loved it when we were able to help. When my little sister was born, I was so proud and excited to be able to help care for her; it made no difference to me that she had Down syndrome–she was my sister. My mom was and is very disciplined with her time and responsibilities and taught me do the same. The importance of diligence and staying focused on the task at hand was important in general, but also because we never knew what might come up. My uncle, at that time, needed help almost every two minutes, and understanding my little brother was sometimes very difficult because he couldn’t communicate well with words.

I am thankful for my parents’ example of self-denial, discipline, and hard work, and I was able to carry those qualities, though probably not quite as well, into high school and apply them when doing homework, training for basketball, and leading the honor society. I am also thankful for their example of and passing on of a positive attitude; devoting time and energy to our family members and others is not a bothersome burden but a joy when looked at with proper perspective. Yet with the demands of household responsibilities, it was often hard to stay balanced getting my homework done while finding time to help my uncle and still be patient with my little sister too. But I made it through and finished on top and now feel somewhat prepared for the challenges ahead. And not only have these situations made me stronger and more mature as a person, but they enable me to help and sincerely empathize with those in similar situations.”

You can learn more about the AACY and the CYP by visiting their websites.

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Patient, caregiver, wife and mother – Georgiapeach85 shares about her experiences with MS and her husband’s PTS

Posted June 22nd, 2015 by

Ashleigh (Georgiapeach85) is a little bit different than your typical PatientsLikeMe member – not only is she living with multiple sclerosis, she also a caregiver for her husband Phil, who has been diagnosed with PTS. In her interview, Ashleigh shares her unique perspective gained from her role as a patient and caregiver, and how PatientsLikeMe has helped her to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. Read about her journey below.

Hi Ashleigh! Tell us a little about yourself and your husband.
Hi! I am 29 and my husband Phil is 33. We have been married for 9 and a half years, and we have a son who is almost two 🙂 . I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in July 2009 just before my 24th birthday. My husband served in the Army Reserves for just over six years and did one tour in Afghanistan in 2002. I met him while he was going through his Med Board and discharge. We met while working at Best Buy – he was Loss Prevention, the ones in the yellow shirts up front – and I was a cashier and bought him a coke on his first day 🙂 . We dated for nine months, were engaged for six, and got married and haven’t looked back!

What was your husband’s PTS diagnosis experience like?
It has been hard as his wife to see him struggle with first acknowledging that he had stronger reactions to small things in life than most people would and that perhaps he should seek outside help and then the struggle to get the care he needs from the VA. He is finally seeing a counselor next week after requesting he be evaluated for PTS a year ago. He has never had insurance other than the VA so has to rely on their lengthy processes for treatment. He was given a preliminary evaluation in March for the claim and was told that he definitely needed to be seen further, but then the VA made no follow up.

One of his manifestations is getting very frustrated very quickly, so I try to make all of his doctor appointments for him so he doesn’t have to deal with the wait times and rudeness from the VA employees. I have spent hours on the phone getting the right forms filled out and referrals done. I am proud of him for not giving up on it and seeing that he needs to learn some situational coping strategies so that we can enjoy life as a family. Phil loves camping and the outdoors where things are peaceful and open, so we belong to a private camping club and he loves to take our son and dog up there to get away.

You have a unique perspective as both an MS patient and a caregiver for your husband. Can you speak about your role as a caregiver and some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge I face is remembering his reactions to crowds and loud stimulating environments when we are choosing where to go. We have had to leave restaurants because they have been so busy and crowded just waiting for a table that he gets very panicked and apprehensive about being able to get to an exit quickly. He does just fine most places, but crowds and small areas stress him out. I handle making all of my appointments for my MS and his for his medical needs so it can be stressful sometimes while trying to work full time and be a mom.

How has PatientsLikeMe helped you expand your role as a caregiver?
I am just exploring the Post-Traumatic Stress section to see what others are experiencing. I never even thought about getting support for being a caregiver for Phil, I just always assumed he was the only one with caregiving responsibilities for me, but I see that I need to learn what I can about what he is going through so that I can give back the support he has given me over the years and through my diagnosis. Just as I want to be open about my MS, but don’t want it to define me as a person, Phil wants to learn to address his experience in Afghanistan and how he reacts to situations outside his control, but doesn’t want to be defined by a label of PTS. PatientsLikeMe has helped me to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. I have met many wonderful people and it is a great relief to know I can log on and vent or seek guidance from people all over the world.

What has been the most helpful part of the PatientsLikeMe site with regards to your MS?
Well I found the best neurologist ever through the site by looking up people who were on Low-Dose Naltrexone for their MS (which is an off-label prescription my former neurologist thought was not worth pursuing), then I sorted by those geographically closest to me, and I sent them a private message as to who prescribed them LDN. One of the members gave me Dr. English’s name at the MS Center of Atlanta, and that center has been a godsend for the care and advancements I have been exposed to. In a similar circumstance, I have made a new friend when a lady two years older than me found me under a search for those in her area and through messaging we found out that her son and mine were born on the same day, just one year apart! She lives 10 minutes away and Phil and I have become friends with her and her husband and that has been so great to have a female friend my age, with MS, and with a young child. Beyond the connections, being able to search for a medication and seeing how it is working for others and their reviews has been immensely helpful.

What’s one piece of advice you have for other caregivers who are also managing their own chronic conditions?
Just because there might not be a cure doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about life and yourself in the journey for caring for someone you love. Learn to take the good days with the bad and be thankful for life and being around to give support. In my case, I care for my spouse whom I love with all my heart and will be with for the rest of our lives. You have to view the big picture when you get caught up in the stress of day-to-day or certain circumstances, it’s the only perspective you can take when you’re in it for the long haul 🙂 . Also, don’t feel guilty when you need to take a break for yourself, you are only good for others when you have charged yourself up.

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Let’s talk about men’s health

Posted June 10th, 2015 by

On average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women. Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death, and by the age of 100 women outnumber men eight to one1.

Sometimes men just don’t talk about their health problems. Or they might not go to the doctor or for their health screenings as often as women2. This month is National Men’s Health Month and it’s a time to raise awareness and encourage early detection and treatment of preventable disease among men and boys.

There are several ways to get involved and join in the conversation. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few ideas:

Join the Men’s Health Forum discussions
Men make up 29 percent of PatientsLikeMe – and 81 percent of these members are sharing about their conditions, tracking their symptoms and connecting with one another in the men’s health forum. If you’re interested in learning more, visit today.

Wear something blue
The Men’s Health Network (MHN) is encouraging everyone to wear blue and share their pictures with the #showusyourblue hashtag on social media.

Research the facts
Learn about Key Health Indicators, common men’s health conditions and leading causes of death on the MHN’s information center.

Check your resources
Here’s a great list of resources and things to do in June, courtesy of the MHN.

Listen to patient interviews
Several men have shared their experiences on the PatientsLikeMe blog – watch Bryan (IPF) and Ed (Parkinson’s disease) speak about their conditions, and listen to David Jurado’s podcast on life with PTS.

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1 Life Expectancy data is from CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2013
2 http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/menshealthfacts.pdf


“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Edward shares about living with schizoaffective disorder

Posted May 19th, 2015 by

Meet Edward, a member of the PatientsLikeMe mental health community. He’s been living with schizoaffective disorder since the late 1970s, and over the past 35 years, he’s experienced many symptoms, everything from paranoia and euphoria to insomnia and deep depression. Below, he uses his own words to take you on a journey through his life with schizoaffective disorder, including a detailed account of what happened when he stopped taking his medications and how he has learned to love God through loving others.

How it all began:
In my early twenty’s in 1977, I was doing GREAT in college, double majoring in Mathematics and Electrical Electronic Engineering and in the top 1% of my class when I started having problems with mental illness. My first symptom was an intense mental anguish as if something broke inside of my head. Then my sleep started to suffer and I would fall asleep in my college classes, which was not at all like me. Then I started having strong mood swings and I became very delusional. I experienced all of this without the use of any drugs or alcohol; in fact I have never used any street drugs or alcohol. Life became HELL and I tried suicide. My parents then put me in a psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for about a year.

What schizoaffective disorder feels like:
When not on any antipsychotic medications, I feel like; others could hear my thoughts (broadcasting), that I could hear other people’s thoughts (mind reading), that I could communicate by thought with others without speaking a word (telepathic communication), not only could I communicate with other people in this way but I could communicate with other things as if they had human like qualities (anthropomorphic telepathic communication), believing that I am super important to the world (grandiose thinking), that others were out to kill me (paranoia), and I would become very delusional. But, now after taking the antipsychotic medications for some time, not only do I not believe that these things (powers) were never true for me, I also believe that no one else has these powers. Maybe some people may have others out to kill them, but this is not true for me. Also, for over 35 years (1977 – 2013) I believed that God would talk to me personally and would give me personal instructions, but now, I don’t believe this is/was ever true.

On top of having psychotic episodes, my mood has fluctuated from being euphoria, extremely joyful, super happy, with very little sleep, feeling like I didn’t need to sleep, etc. to suicidal lows, dysphoria, deep dark depression, and sleeping a lot with not being able to get out of bed, etc. My mood swings greatly in duration and intensity for reasons I am not fully aware of.

My quality of sleep is very poor. When I lay down in bed to go to sleep, my body/mind tortures me so much that if I haven’t gone to sleep within about five minutes I get up out of bed to relieve the torture like sensations. The torture sensations might be; restless legs, a general restlessness of my body or mind, a sensation in the back of my throat, an itch, or any thing that my mind can not stop focusing on. Once I have gone to sleep, I only sleep for about an hour before I awake. Once awake I go through all of the problems of falling back to sleep again. The sleep I do get is not refreshing. My mood and sleep go hand in hand, when my sleep is bad, my mood swings are bad and when my mood swings are bad, my sleep is bad and vise-a-versa. I have had a recent improvement my mood/sleep problem. It may be due to my new medication, Latuda that I am taking. Only time will tell if Latuda will continue to help.

What happened when I tried to stop taking my meds:
I stopped taking all my medications because I wanted to see if they were doing anything for me. Everyone told me that this was a bad idea, but I did it anyways.

As time progressed I could tell that my wife, Audrey, wanted to confess something to me, but was scared that I would not be able to handle it. I could also tell that Audrey talked to my counselor about this, and that my counselor agreed with her not to tell me. They were keeping something a secret from me. We danced around the issue, as if there was a white elephant in the room that no one was willing to talk about.

I figured that Audrey was having an affair with the senior pastor of a local mega church that she belongs to. It appeared to me that Audrey was willing to break off the affair and go public with it, but the pastor was not. To keep it from going public, I figured that the pastor hired a hit man to kill me. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure of it.

One day after Audrey left for work, I panicked. I started running. The first thing I did was try to get a hotel room without showing ID. However, all the hotels that I tried required ID. The way the hotel staff acted made me all the more sure that the pastor was getting help in finding where I was. At this point, I went into a Jack in the Box to get something to eat, and I could tell by the way people were acting that they had received the reverse 911 call on me. I figured the senior pastor that was having an affair with my wife knew that I knew about the affair and that I was running, so he convinced the police that I was either a danger to myself or to others, and that they should put out a reverse 911 call to find me.

I quickly left the Jack in the Box and got back in my car. I drove to a Rite Aid store and bought some bottled water, because I was planning to hide in the desert. The employees at the Rite Aid seemed to be acting strange around me, as if they, too, received the reverse 911 call on me. I quickly got in my car and drove into the desert, trying to find a safe place, but I saw a helicopter in the distance, and I knew I was not safe there either. I got on the freeway and headed north.

I had not been sleeping well for weeks and was getting very tired. Having a bottle of 200-milligram caffeine tablets with me, I took one. It helped only a little. I was also taking them to help me feel better, and I already had a lot of caffeine in my system. After driving for about fifteen minutes, I felt sleepy again, so I took another caffeine tablet. This sequence of events continued. I was taking a caffeine tablet about every five to fifteen minutes.

After driving for about two hours, I was scared that I might be a danger to myself or, worse, to someone else, because I could easy fall asleep behind the wheel. I pulled off the freeway into the parking lot of an old run down hotel. I figured that these people would be willing to hide me.

I booked a room, even though I had to show my ID. They too appeared to be acting strange. I figured that my picture must be on TV, so that people could be on the lookout for me. Everywhere I went people were looking at me funny. At the hotel I tried to lie down on the bed to get some rest, but I could not rest. I was wired. I got back in my car and drove north again.

After driving for about another hour, I came to the conclusion that I could not hide, and that they would eventually find me and kill me no matter where I went, so I stopped running. I called Audrey and told her I was coming home. Still very tired, I got back in my car and took another caffeine tablet or two.

I do not remember if my son called me or if I called him, but my son and I talked. I told him that I thought his mother was having an affair. Talking to him did help me stay awake while driving. After talking to my son, I called a friend to have him talk to me to help me stay awake. I was still taking a caffeine tablet about every five to fifteen minutes.

Half a bottle of caffeine tablets later, and with the help of everyone, I finally made it home that night. My wife and I got ready for bed, but I could not get any rest.

I got up and started playing on my computer. This was no help, for I started to worry about the Internet crashing, which would cause havoc to our society. Not only was I worried that the Internet could fail, but I believed that I could make it crash, if I wished. This really bothered me a lot.

The way I figured it was, if I did not make it crash, myself, it would someday crash by itself. The more I thought about this, the more I was sure of it. The problem was that if it crashed later we would be worse off and our society would not be able to recover.

I figured that the Internet could not handle human emotions, so I decide to make it crash that night by causing it to be jealous of my other computer—that was not connected to the Internet. I told my computer that was connected to the internet, that I loved my other computer more.

In the morning, Audrey took me to the emergency room at a hospital where there was a behavioral health unit.

Now, I was really afraid of just about everything and everybody. I thought that the internet was out to get me. I believed that the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security were called in because I was viewed as a national threat. I also believed that the hospital needed time to get agents into the locked ward to act as patients.

After spending most of the day in the emergency room, I was all the more sure that these things were true. I thought they would put me in the behavioral health locked ward, but they did not. Instead, they put me on the surgical floor.

Now, I really believed something was up. Why would they do that? This scared me even more.

On the surgical floor, they had a nurse sit by my bed. I thought she was working for the government to find out if I was a national threat or not. I told her everything about my relationship with my computers and how I caused the Internet to crash. At this point, I thought the Internet had already crashed and it was all over the news, because the hospital staff would not let me watch TV.

To make matters worse, I was craving sex, badly. I was hoping the nurse would be willing to do something with me, if Audrey gave her okay. It seemed to me that Audrey did not want to have sex with me, and she might be willing to let me play with someone else. So, if she was willing, I was willing. But this never happened.

I was scared out of my wits. I wanted the hospital staff to put me in lock-up. Believe it or not, I felt more comfortable in the lock-up ward than I did on the surgical floor.

Later they put me in the mental health lock ward and placed me on a three-day hold, and then on a two-week hold. They stated that I overdosed on caffeine, that I was a danger to myself and others, and that I could not care for myself.

At first I refused to take the medication they wanted me to take, but later I did take it and I got better.

Now I can see that I was very delusional.

Where I’m at today:
My life has been full of ups and downs, twists and turns, which have taught me an important fact, keep the main thing the main thing, which is to love God with everything I got by loving others as I would have them love me with forgiveness, compassion, endurance, patience, mercy, grace, charity, tenderness, strength, wisdom, kindness, and with all that causes good to happen. The way I see God is He is more of a Spirit than a being, like Santa Clause is more of the spirit of giving at Christmas time than a actual being. Different psychiatrists have given me different diagnoses and prescribed different medications at different times in my life. When I am not suffering with my symptoms of mental illness, I enjoy working with my robot, studying and doing math, writing books, writing computer programs, and thinking about God stuff. If you have any questions either about myself or my fight with this illness, please ask me.

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A bold choice to fight epilepsy

Posted May 6th, 2015 by

As originally seen on the Tampa General Hospital News Center website

It was scary enough for Letitia Browne-James’ parents to witness their child’s epileptic seizures. But they were also frightened when a doctor suggested brain surgery for their 12-year-old.

“My parents said ‘no way,’” Browne-James said. “It was a very scary thought.”

They tried medications, the first step for most of the more than three million U.S. epilepsy patients. But Letitia, like almost a third of patients with epilepsy, could not find a medication that worked. And so for more than 20 years, Letitia fought a losing battle against epileptic seizures that slowly eroded her quality of life.

Finally, at age 31 and desperate for a cure, Letitia took that final dramatic step: brain surgery. This is the story of her journey to become seizure-free.

For thousands of epilepsy patients, brain surgery can be the best option to end seizures. But for these patients with uncontrolled seizures, Browne-James’ experience is typical. Most who eventually have surgery wait 15 to 18 years after diagnosis.

Researchers estimate that well over 100,000 epilepsy patients are good candidates for surgery. But each year, only about 3,000 receive it.

“Surgery is the most dramatic thing you can do to treat epilepsy,” said Dr. Selim Benbadis, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Tampa General and University of South Florida. “But these misconceptions exist. We see patients all the time who say, “Oh, my neurologist said, ‘Don’t do that. That’s a last resort before you die.’ “

For many patients, the risk of uncontrolled seizures is higher than surgery itself, Benbadis said. Two recent studies found most patients were seizure-free afterwards.

“If things aren’t working, there is a next step,” said Benbadis, also a professor of neurology at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “Get to an epilepsy center, preferably Level IV, and see what’s causing your seizures and what your treatment options are.”

Patients who visit such a center may even discover they don’t have epilepsy.  Up to one-third of them are misdiagnosed.

***

Browne-James, who lives in Orlando, had her first seizure when she was six months old – and then not again until she was 10. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, an electrical disturbance in the brain that causes seizures. She tried one medication, then another.

But at least once a month, she would have a seizure.

She chafed against the limits that came with epilepsy. She wasn’t allowed to go swimming. Or play too far from home.

She feared having a seizure in school or in church, while she was acting or dancing on stage, or, as she got older, on a date. When she met her future husband, Jonah James, Jr., through mutual friends, she told him about the disease right away.

She worried about her wedding day.

“I prayed really hard, just asking God to allow me to let me make it through that day without having a seizure,” she said.

Her seizures gradually got worse, occurring at least once a week. Now a counselor, she worried about having a seizure in front of a client.

Browne-James wasn’t able to drive. She lost a tooth. She cut her knee so badly that it required stitches and left a sprawling scar. She lost count of the cuts and bruises and hospital visits, all caused by seizures she couldn’t remember.

She tried more medications, and grew increasingly frustrated. About three years ago, Browne-James joined a website that has an epilepsy forum and began to talk with other patients.

The website, called PatientsLikeMe, became her lifeline. It prompted her to find an Orlando neurologist who specializes in epilepsy, called an epileptologist. She learned about brain surgery. Her new doctor gave her the names of three hospitals in Florida where the surgery is performed.

When she called the first one, the doctor there said the hospital could perform her surgery. But he told her she would be better off with a center that performs the surgery more often. She said he recommended Dr. Fernando Vale, surgical director of Tampa General’s epilepsy program and vice chair of USF Health’s Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair. Tampa General is the busiest epilepsy surgery center in Florida.

***

Browne-James underwent an extensive evaluation to see whether surgery would help her.  Doctors like Benbadis can identify what part of the brain the seizures come from and evaluate whether it controls any essential cognitive functions.  They can also see which side of the brain is dominant.

“We need to educate patients and physicians more,” said Dr. Vale. “It’s still delicate surgery, don’t get me wrong, but people talk about surgery as scary, how it will disfigure them. And there are misconceptions among neurologists. We are trying to reduce these fears and reassure patients it’s a safe operation.”

The extensive neurological testing and use of two-inch long “keyhole” incisions can help reduce those fears, he said. As the day of the surgery grew closer, Browne-James wasn’t scared.

“Everyone thought I was crazy because I was very excited and counting down the days to brain surgery,” she said.

Dr. Vale removed a tiny piece of Browne-James’ brain, about the size of a sugar cube.  Browne-James marveled at how small the scar was.

She hasn’t had a seizure since. And her cognitive abilities are fine; she’s now working on  her PhD.

Since her surgery, Browne-James has become an outspoken patient advocate. She’s made a video for PatientsLikeMe and frequently speaks with patients and medical researchers about the need for patients to be informed about their care.

One of those patients was an 11-year-old girl.  The girl went on to have surgery and has been seizure-free since.

“She doesn’t have to grow up like I did,” Browne-James said. “Living with epilepsy and planning her life around it.”

For more information about the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Tampa General Hospital, contact vkelley@tgh.org or call (813) 844-4675.

Story by Lisa Greene, video and photos by Daniel Wallace, Tampa General News, Friday, April 17, 2015.

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“Don’t go it alone” – IPF member Christine shares about her health journey

Posted April 24th, 2015 by

Christine_Williams was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2009, and ever since, she’s been managing a “rollercoaster ride that’s terrifying and not fun.” But she’s connected with your community on PatientsLikeMe for inspiration and was even referred to a new medical center to be evaluated for a lung transplant by her “rehabilitation buddies.” Below, read what Christine shared about her diagnosis, progression and thoughts on living with IPF.

Can you share a bit about your diagnosis experience? We’ve heard from many members that finding an official diagnosis isn’t always easy. What that true for you, too? 

Mostly no. In March 2009, I contracted pneumonia back to back within 8 weeks. It was around the time when the swine flu became a big deal, and I had visited Cancun, Mexico that year. I wasn’t necessarily in great health but fairly healthy. I had always attributed my shortness of breath to me being overweight. Because of the pneumonia, a CT scan was ordered. Then a bronchoscopy and finally a video assisted lung biopsy. I was diagnosed however right after the bronchoscopy. I started exhibiting shortness of breath symptoms in 2001. Even went through a series of PFTs at the time but was given an inhaler and told to lose weight. Ironically I didn’t start to suffer from REAL shortness of breath until after the diagnosis. Perhaps I had an exacerbation when sick with pneumonia. 

How has your IPF progressed over the past five years?

To tell you the truth, I really don’t know. I figured the doctor would tell me if there was an exacerbation or not. No news is good news? I do know that my disease had stabilized within 2 years because I was “kicked out” of the lung transplant program so to speak. I no longer needed to see the transplant team doctors however was recommended to still see my pulmonologist which I did. It was only the diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (in October 2013) that the option of lung transplant is back on the table. I know I need to know this information and will ask my pulmonologist how my PF has progressed when I see her this month. I was only using oxygen at night until March 2013. Then I started using it full time. My liters per minute (LPM) has increased since then too (from 2-4 at rest and 4-6/10 on exertion).

Take us through a typical day in your life – how are you managing your IPF?

I officially retired from my job December 2014. I have up days and down days. Every morning I open my eyes, I thank God! I attend pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). I used to attend a yoga class given by the PR until it was cancelled. I hope they bring it back soon because it brings me much needed peace and helps me breath better. I try to be as “normal” as possible. I cook, clean, spend time with family and friends. I also help take care of my 5-year old twin grandsons for about 3 hours every day after school. I run errands; post office, dry cleaners, etc. Sometimes I go to the doctor by myself but most times I ask for someone to go with me; just to have another set of eyes and ears. I rely heavily on my support system both in person and on-line.

Since it looks like a lung transplant might be back on the table for you, can you tell us a little about what the experience has been like?

It is a very exhausting experience. I’m being evaluated by three different centers (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Temple University and New York Columbia Presbyterian). Every other week, I’m changing my mind. Traveling back and forth, making appointments, getting all the tests done can be extremely stressful. I was initially with the University of Pennsylvania lung transplant center. I was rejected by them because of esophageal issues. I was so defeated that I went home and cried and said I can’t do this anymore. But I guess God has something else in store for me. I was referred to UPMC and my cousin had a double lung transplant at Temple. One of my “rehabilitation buddies” went to NYCP and referred them to me. I am a part of the NYCP program and UPMC and Temple are in the process of testing me. I know that lung transplant is not a cure but an option. It’s trading one set of challenges for another. It is good to see some people that I have met on-line over the years thrive with transplant.

How have others in the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe helped support your journey?

Words cannot express how I feel about the IPF community! As I mentioned earlier, they are an important part of my inspiration. Their honesty, love, courage and encouragement help keep me going when I think I can’t go on anymore. I pray for our individual and collective healing on a daily basis. 

You post a bunch to the “Today’s Thought” thread in the forum – what is one thought you’d share with someone who has recently been diagnosed with IPF?

DON’T GO IT ALONE!!!! Please reach out to family and friends. Stay connected even if it’s online. Research face-to-face groups on the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation website. Talk to a therapist, priest, rabbi, etc. This can be a dark, lonely and scary experience; a rollercoaster ride that’s terrifying and not fun. Remember that you are not alone!!! And there is a whole community of us just waiting with open arms.

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PatientsLikeMe member TMurph58 shares about his advocacy efforts and journey with ALS

Posted April 20th, 2015 by

TMurph58 is a longtime PatientsLikeMe member who is living with ALS. You may remember him from his 2012 interview, when he talked about the “Treat Us Now” movement and his experiences with ALS. We recently caught up with Tom, and he shared about his extensive advocacy efforts over the past few years, including his recent presentation on patient-focused drug development with Sally Okun, PatientsLikeMe’s Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety. Catch up on his journey below.

Hi Tom! Can you share a little about your early symptoms and diagnosis experience?

I think I was very lucky to have a knowledgeable general practitioner – my actual diagnosis only took three months to complete even though I had to see three separate neurologists. My early symptoms started in my right hand with weakness and the atrophy of the thumb muscle – I thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome.

How has your ALS progressed over the past few years?

Thankfully I have been in the category of a slow progressor:

The ALSFRS-R measures activities of daily living (ADL) and global function for patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The ALSFRS-R provides a physicians-generated estimate of patient’s degree of functional impairment, which can be evaluated serially to objectively assess any response to treatment or progression of disease.

Description:

  • 12-question scale with 5 possible responses each (0-indicates unable to 4-indicates normal ability)
  • Individual item scores are added to produce a reported score of between 0 = worst and 48 = best

What sort of advocacy efforts have you been involved in since your diagnosis?

  • PatientsLikeMe (PLM) Member since January 2011.
  • Active with the ALS Association (raised over $80,000 to date) – my most current activity.
  • On 8/2/2011, FM 106.7 The Fan (Sports Junkies) hosted an ALS Awareness Day Interview.
  • March 2012: Featured Interview on PatientsLikeMe (PLM) –Meet ALS “Treat Us Now” Steering Committee Member Tom Murphy.
  • April 24-25 2012 Visit to Capitol Hill with Former Neuraltus CEO (Andrew Gengos) – Summary: I think Andrew Gengos (CEO Neuraltus) and I made a good “team” – Both Industry and Patients “partnering” with a consistent message related to Expanded Access and Accelerated Approval for Rare and Life Threatening diseases such as ALS.
  • Raised over $30,000 for a collaboration between ALS Treat Us Now and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI) and rode the last 15 miles of the ALSTDI Tri-State Trek in July 2012.
  • Presentation made to the FDA CDER on 8/24/2012.

You’re a 3-star data donor on PatientsLikeMe – what do you find helpful about tracking your health on the site?

Because of this site, I think I have the most complete documentation of my disease progression in treatments than anyone in the health industry. It is a great tool and has been unbelievably helpful to me over the last four years. 

Finally, congratulations on your 33-year anniversary! As a father and husband, what’s one thing you’d like to share with the community about ALS and family relationships?

At the end of the day, given all the challenges those of us with ALS face – nothing is more important than your family relationships and the love you share.

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“ALS is not for sissies.” – PatientsLikeMe member SuperScout shares about her journey with ALS

Posted March 30th, 2015 by

That’s what SuperScout likes to tell people when explaining her personal motto. She was diagnosed in 2009, and in a recent interview, she explained how she takes her life one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. In her interview, she broke down what goes on during a typical visit to her ALS clinic, and shared how technology has been simultaneously frustrating and extremely helpful. Learn about her journey below.

When did you first experience symptoms of ALS?

In August 2008, I was attending a Girl Scout event. As we recited the Promise, I noticed my fingers weren’t making the sign correctly. Over the next few months, I began to lose the fine motor skills in my right hand. Writing was hard, & I started using my left hand for most things. I thought I had some form of carpal tunnel. I had NO pain, so I wasn’t concerned. In December 2008, I went to my family doctor for my annual check-up. I told him my problems & he sent me for an electroencephalogram (EEG). That began the series of tests that eventually led to my diagnosis in April 2009.

How did you feel after being officially diagnosed? And what was the first thing that went through your mind?

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I suspected something unusual was going to happen because the technician at my second EEG commented that the neurologist must find my case interesting because normally, it’s difficult to get an appointment with him. He entered the exam room, sat down, and said, “I have bad news for you. You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned, and asked if it would affect my longevity. He said yes, but couldn’t tell me how much. He asked if I had any questions, but I didn’t because I didn’t know much about it. Sure, I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it would do to me. I went home, and looked on the Internet for information on ALS. It was scary. The first thing through my mind was how it would change my life and that of my family. I was used to doing for others, now they would need to do for me.

You tell people “ALS is not for sissies.” Can you elaborate on that?

A sissy is defined as someone who is timid or cowardly. No one who has ALS can fit that definition. We all know it will shorten our life, and rob us of many functions we once took for granted. I really like the PSA Angela Lansbury did for ALS in 2008. She’s sitting on a stool, and a gun is fired. As the bullet races toward her, she describes what ALS does to the body, and ends by saying “There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” She asks for donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) stating that with this help those with ALS can do this: She rises and avoids the oncoming bullet. We all see the bullet, yet can’t do anything to stop it. Unlike other serious diseases, there are NO options for a treatment that will cure this disease that’s been described as horrific. However, every day we People with ALS (PALS) are fighting the daily battle to stay positive. Sometimes, it’s easy, sometimes, it’s hard. You take it one day at a time, or even just one hour at a time. That makes us BRAVE, and not sissies.

Take us through a typical visit to your ALS clinic – what’s the experience like?

Every 3 months, I visit the ALS clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Once my weight is checked, I’m taken to an exam room, then the team of specialists each stop in to see me. In addition to the neurologist, I see a respiratory therapist, nurse, ALS representative, MDA representative, speech therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, & a pastoral care minister. They each make recommendations to help me have the best quality of life with ALS as possible. My family members are asked if they have any needs. Each room has a sign – “Have we answered all your questions?” About 1 week after my visit, I receive in the mail a summary of my visit with their recommendations. Prior to the visit, I also complete a Quality of Life survey, similar to the one on this website. Although lengthy (around 3 1/2 hours), I enjoy my visits because each person makes me feel important and they truly care about me.

How has technology helped you with your communication?

When I began using my Eyegaze Edge, I found it frustrating, but gradually got better at not moving my head and was able to be successful. Now, it is my sole means of communication. Before my caregiver arrives in the morning, I type out for her what I want for my meals, what channels I want to watch on TV, and any special information. My son says I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I talk, so using my device is a necessity if I want to communicate. We even take it to Sunday School, so I can participate in our class discussions. My most favorite thing to do is connect to the internet. Sending emails is easy, and I go on Facebook, play games, read, Skype, shop, and do whatever I’m in the mood for. Once, when the camera broke, I was without it for a few days and I really missed it. I wound up grunting “Yes” or “No” to questions which was frustrating. Using technology to connect to others makes me feel I still have a purpose in life, and I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Finally, what’s the most positive surprise you’ve learned while living with ALS?

The most positive surprise I’ve learned while living with ALS is that I have more people thinking about me, and supporting me with their prayers, than I expected. I learned this during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I began to see videos posted on my Facebook timeline of people participating in the Challenge in my honor. It warmed my heart to see them. They featured friends, former work colleagues, and some fellow Girl Scout volunteers. Many said how I’ve inspired them with my smile. It was never my intention to be an inspiration, but just to cope with ALS the best way I knew, with my faith in God and a sense of humor. Due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the world now knew more about ALS, and money will be used to find a treatment and cure for ALS. I feel hopeful for the first time since my diagnosis.

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“I am not alone in this” – PatientsLikeMe member Rikwood55 shares his journey with lung cancer

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by

New member (and New Zealander) Rikwood55 was diagnosed at age 58 with non-small cell lung carcinoma (stage 4), and he said he joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Rick took part in a clinical trial, and is now tolerating the immunotherapy treatment well. His scans are looking good, and he sums it up this way:

“Five rounds of Carboplatin Chemo was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.”

Read Rick’s interview below and share your own experiences.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Rick.

I am Rick, and I was diagnosed at age 58 with NSCLC stage 4 metastasis. I am a New Zealand-born resident currently receiving immunotherapy treatment in a clinical trial every 3 weeks at Auckland Hospital. I have received 14 treatments to date. Scan results have been good and I am tolerating the treatment well. I have joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Please, no clinical specific info, which would in any way compromise study results. Let’s talk about living day to day…I think you’ll know what I mean.

You were diagnosed about 2 years ago – what went through your mind after your diagnosis?

Diagnosis day was a tough day. Mentally paralyzing. No soft landing. I dealt with it as best as I could. Fortunately my beautiful wife was there for me. 

You’re a brand-new member of PatientsLikeMe – welcome! What do you think of the community and site so far? 

Thank you for your ‘new member’ welcome to PatientsLikeMe. What I have seen so far, this site looks to me to be very impressive, I found the section on sleep very reassuring. Insomnia is a big issue for me. I see now from your research data that I am not alone in this.

On your profile, you’ve noted that one of your interests is in clinical trials. What about clinical trials makes you passionate about them?

I do not think I am passionate about clinical trials per se. However, I am very enthusiastic about the immunotherapy study treatment that I am fortunate to currently be on. It has given me hope. A sense of hopelessness was never far from my mind in the first year after diagnosis. Five rounds of carboplatin chemotherapy was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.

Finally, what is one thing you’ve learned over the past two years since your diagnosis that you’d like to share with the lung cancer community?

Maybe one small way that I can try and say thanks to the cancer researchers, biotechnicians, study administrators and clinical care staff is to show support and encouragement for the groundbreaking work they are doing. They deserve all the flag waving acknowledgment possible for giving me back hope.

To paraphrase Mel Bernstein/Harris Yulin in Scarface, (1983), “Everyday above ground is a good day.”

Cheers!

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A day in the life of Software Engineer Jacinda Zhong

Posted March 6th, 2015 by

In the last “A day in the life” post, Jonathan shared his story about his son Nolan’s hand injury. In case you aren’t familiar with the series, here’s the scoop. At PatientsLikeMe, we believe in the power of openness, and members frequently share about their health journeys and experiences with different conditions. And since they go above and beyond, the staff at PatientsLikeMe likes to share their own stories to help everyone get to know us, too.

In this edition, Jacinda, a software engineer on the PatientsLikeMe team, introduced herself and spoke about her role, her thoughts on health tech and her passions outside of work. Read her interview below, and don’t forget to check out other posts in the “A day in the life” series.

When did you first hear about PatientsLikeMe? What drew you to join the organization?

I heard about PatientsLikeMe through the Vice President of Engineering, Marcia Nizzari. She is a board member at the arts nonprofit Cantata Singers, which is where I used to work. After I heard about PatientsLikeMe and did some research, I was really drawn to the idea of an application that helps people, instead of technology for technology’s sake. I was also very moved by the founders’ story, and believe that if the leadership has a strong personal connection to the mission, the company becomes more mission-driven, versus financially-driven, which is unfortunately the case with so many technology companies.

Tell us a little about your role as a software engineer. What are some things you’re working on?

I have been working on many different parts of the website, such as quick start and the condition reports. I’ve really enjoyed being able to work in all levels of the stack – from database queries to JavaScript on the client side. I think that is something really great about the PatientsLikeMe engineering team, where the majority of the engineers work on the front and back end. This allows engineers to develop a wide skill set and to contribute to all parts of the site.

You’re one of PatientsLikeMe’s newest employees – in your first few months, what has really stood out to you about PatientsLikeMe?

Similar to what I said above, I really like that PatientsLikeMe is so mission-driven, and wants to change medicine. We are empowering the masses to communicate to each other, and come to conclusions that would not otherwise be reached in the traditional healthcare system. Technology has enabled us to create a platform to facilitate discussion and data-sharing that provides value where the market/patients do not realize they wanted it. It’s almost like we are Apple in some ways, where we are providing a service that the market didn’t know it needed, and only after we show the market what we have to offer, does it realize that it is desired.

We hear you speak French – c’est génial! What else do you do for fun outside of the office?

I am mostly coding in the evenings, but I also salsa dance, and do spin in the winter, and run in the summer. I did competitive ballroom dancing in college, which opened up my world to partner dancing. I started learning salsa in senior year of college, and continued after graduation. Next up is learning some more swing/lindy hop and west coast swing (though as you might have guessed, California is better for west coast swing than in New England).

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“I am slowly building my self-esteem “ – PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick shares about her journey with PTSD

Posted March 4th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick is a veteran living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her story is one of learning to cope with emotions and frustrations. She’s living proof that things can get better – she’s a loving mother of two, has a great husband and is managing several other mental health conditions. Below, she shared about the sexual abuse she experienced while serving in the military and explained how her previous husband physically assaulted her. Superchick also describes the symptoms of her PTSD and how the community on PatientsLikeMe has been “a huge help” to her. Read about her journey below.

Note: SuperChick shares about her story of abuse, which may be triggering.

Can you speak a little about your PTSD and what led to your diagnosis in 1986?

I was originally diagnosed with PTSD after being raped while I was in the military. I believe I was more susceptible because I had been molested as a child and didn’t have good family support or dynamics. I worked through it, but was diagnosed again in 2007 after leaving a severely abusive marriage, where I was raped multiple times and choked at least twice. I was emotionally abused and didn’t even realize it was abuse. I stayed for fourteen years trying to change myself because my ex-husband had convinced me I was the problem and couldn’t do anything right. It destroyed my self-esteem and any healthy coping skills I had.

What are some of the symptoms you experience because of your PTSD?

Since being diagnosed with PTSD the second time, I have numbed my emotions, I experience anxiety, and I have trouble falling and staying asleep even though I may be thoroughly exhausted and am taking medications for sleep. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep. I sometimes have nightmares, although not nearly as often as I used to. I have difficulty fully trusting my current husband, or people in general for that matter, even though I know he would never harm me and treats me with tremendous respect. I have suffered from a very low self-esteem and for a long time felt responsible for the trauma. I react more intensely to triggering situations than other people would. I am slowly building my self-esteem, but that is still a struggle for me.

You’ve got two wonderful children – how does PTSD affect your family life?

Because my children spend half their time with their father, I worry about them when they’re with him because I know how abusive he can be. I worry about them being sexually abused or harmed and am very protective of them around anyone I don’t know very well. I’m afraid of my daughter becoming involved in abusive relationships when she grows older and my son becoming an abuser. In a positive sense, I am very affectionate and make time to listen to them and engage in activities I know they enjoy because I want them to experience healthy love. I am remarried to a man who truly loves and respects me. My husband and I try to model a healthy relationship for them.

It’s hard for my husband and me, though. The fact that I still have to be involved with my ex-husband and am told over and over again by the court system, child protective services, and all the mediators we’ve worked with that I have to get along with him makes things very difficult. It minimizes or completely dismisses the trauma I’ve experienced. My husband wants to protect me, and this makes him feel frustrated and powerless. There is no way to get along with a narcissist and abuser. I want to move on and not have him as the focus of our lives, but then something happens and it starts all over again. Sometimes my husband feels shut down when he suggests something I have already tried and found to be futile.

I’ve come to realize that while I have been dealing with all of this for over seven years, he came into this halfway through and is in a different place than I am, having to deal with emotions and frustrations I’ve already experienced and dealt with. He is beginning to understand that his approach can sometimes trigger my symptoms, so when he feels like I’m shutting him down I am actually trying not to go back to that pain. It’s hard in that respect for me to be there for him. We plan to go back to family therapy to help develop a healthier focus for our lives. We’ve been dealing with adversity that has out of necessity been the major focus of our lives, but now we need to move on.

How have you learned to live and cope with your PTSD?

I’ve been in therapy since before I left my marriage, and finally found a therapist who has helped me overcome many of the symptoms of PTSD through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which helps change the way I react to the memories. For the most part, I am able to remember the trauma without it bothering me. I still experience triggers, but am able to process the emotions using cognitive behavioral therapy skills and journaling. When I am triggered, I make sure I take care of myself through prayer, talking with my husband and therapist, and doing things that help me relax, ground me, and fully engage my mind, like playing my flute and piano.

The community on PatientsLikeMe has been a huge help. I’ve been able to get support from people all over who have been through what I was going through, and that has helped me cope and make better decisions about my health. I was able to see what my main issues were through the mood map and monitor the effectiveness of my medications. There were many times the PatientsLikeMe community were far more helpful than my doctor.

You’re also living with bipolar II, depression and a few others conditions – how do these affect each other?

I believe the PTSD triggered the bipolar, because I never had symptoms until after I left my marriage and had symptoms of severe PTSD. As I look at symptoms of PTSD, it explains a lot of behaviors I didn’t fully understand, like self-harm, which began as I started to talk about and process the trauma of long-term sexual abuse in my previous marriage. As I’ve worked through many of the issues causing the PTSD, I’ve found that I no longer experience the symptoms of bipolar and have been able to decrease my medications. If I do experience depression now, it is short-lived and related to a specific experience.

As a veteran, what is one special message you’d send to your fellow veterans also living with PTSD?

I think veterans have experiences that only people who have been in the military can understand. Military units are like family, and I find I miss that sense of community now that I’m retired. Meeting with other veterans, especially those with shared experiences of PTSD, may be helpful because those people are more likely to relate well.

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“You can get better” – PatientsLikeMe member jeffperry1134 shares about his journey with PTSD

Posted February 12th, 2015 by

Many veterans are a part of the PTSD community on PatientsLikeMe, and recently, jeffperry1134 spoke about his everyday life after returning home from military service. In his interview, he touched upon his deployment to Somalia in the early 1990s, and how his memories of Africa cause daily symptoms like anxiety, hallucinations and nightmares. But despite everything, Jeff remains upbeat and reminds us that there is always hope. Scroll down to read what he had to say.

Note: the account below is graphic, which may be triggering.

Can you tell us a little about your military service and your early experiences with PTSD?

I entered the military in the Army in July 1990 as a heavy wheeled mechanic. I went through basic training and AIT at Ft. Jackson, SC. I went to my first permanent duty station in December in Mannheim, Germany. I was assigned to a Chinook helicopter unit. My unit was very relaxed and we got along well. As soon as the war broke out we received our deployment orders. We returned home in July from deployment. My PTSD was early onset after returning from Desert Storm. I experienced nightmares, depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. At the time I was a 19 year old alone in Germany away from my family struggling with this mental illness. My supervisors were able to help me hide my problems well and it was not discovered at that time. I feared being singled out for having these problems. Three days before it was my time to PCS stateside our company was deployed again, this time we were going to Somalia. I was told I could leave but I felt guilty so I volunteered to stay and deploy with my teammates. We deployed in November 1992 and returned in June 1993. During my time in Somalia it was rough. During the deployment my job was perimeter guard duty and body remover. During the deployment I used local drugs of Khat and Opium Poppies to control the symptoms of my illness. After returning from Somalia not only did I have the symptoms that I had earlier but now I was hallucinating hearing voices, smelling smells and seeing flashes. I went stateside a week after we returned. I went to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in an engineer unit that was strict. I made a huge impression with my skills as a mechanic and a soldier so when I was having problems my superiors hid it for me to keep me out of trouble. I did get in trouble once after a night of heavy drinking and smoking marijuana and was given an article-15 for being drunk on duty. Before that day I had still considered myself as a career soldier and I decided then that I was not going to re-enlist. I spent the rest of my military time waiting to get out and finally July 1994 came and I was out and had a job at a local car dealership as a mechanic. After working a while I got into a verbal confrontation that turned physical with the business owner and had to be removed by the police from the dealership. After that my thinking became bizarre and very hyper-vigilant. I took newspaper clippings and taped them to a door so it would motivate me to exercise harder and be ready if I were ever in a life or death situation. At the time I was working with a great therapist and she did wonders for me keeping me stable. She convinced me to take my medications and stop drinking daily.

What were your feelings after being officially diagnosed? 

I was blown away when I was diagnosed in 1995 after a suicide attempt that ended up with me being hospitalized on a psych unit for a week. My sister walked in on me at my apartment with a loaded gun in my mouth. I was resistant to treatment or even acknowledging that I had this illness. I was linked up with a therapist and psychiatrist before leaving the hospital.

What are some of the symptoms you experience on a daily basis?

On a daily basis I usually deal with a lot of anxiety, some depression, occasional hallucinations and nightmares. On a bad day I will have sensory hallucinations with me smelling dead bodies, burning flesh or cordite. Usually when that happens I get physically sick.

You recently completed the Mood Map Survey on your PatientsLikeMe profile – what have you learned about your PTSD from your tracking tools?

I learned that my PTSD is not as well managed as I would like it. It made me press my doctor to give me an antipsychotic medication and I have a new therapist at the VA that is working hard to help me identify when my symptoms are becoming worse.

By sharing your story, what do you hope to teach others about PTSD?

I just wanted to show that you can get better and that there is hope and that they can get through it.

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